Spotting Byronic Heroes: Cho Hakkai

Ahoy and welcome back to Anime Parlay. I’m The Captain and I’m happy to be back to writing about everything and nothing all at once. I told you I was a walking contradiction. Anywho, what do you do with a degree that revolves around the humanities? Any STEM person I’ve conversed with would suggest I consider wipping my ass with it. Me personally, I’d rather share the fruits of my knowledge with you in hopes you may be able to share your thoughts in return. Today, I’d like to discuss Byronic characters with you.

What is a Byronic Character?

Travel back in time with me using your imagination device to a time of romanticism. If you’re not in the know, romanticism was a literature, music and art movement that started in the late 18th century. This intellectual movement focused on reflective individualism and personal connection to one’s emotions. At this time in the world, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Soot, child labor, and progress at the cost of people. Romanticism was the cultural counter to this new age of mass production and machines. It would also be the foundation for modern neck-beardism as we know it today.

A prolific figure during this time was was the British poet and politician Lord George Gordon Byron. Lord Byron lived it up by traveling Europe, incuring immesurable debt to live lavishly, and banging both men and women because fuck you. He’s Lord Byron. He was considered flamboyant and based on how influential he was, despite being a bit cadish, was pretty much an early celebrity. A turn-of-the-century rock star, if you will.

When Lord Byron put pen to paper to craft characters from the aether of his mind, he created characters very similar to himself. Cynical, proud, defiant, miserable, and vengeful but capable of devotion and deep compassion despite the former negative qualities. Byronic characters typically struggle with dark pasts while trying to leave them behind. Absolutely capable of destroying themselves or other beautiful things in effort to heal that never brings salvation. To give a modern example, the late, great Severus Snape would easily be considered a Byronic character. However, we’re not here to focus on the professor. Let’s talk about the man who would become Cho Hakkai.

Quick Note on the Source Material

Spoilers ahead for Saiyuki released in the Spring of 2000. I would not reccomend this show to anyone. I love this show but it took some time. The first 5 episodes are garbage but the series really takes off after that. I was entraced but I was also a rookie fan just trying to consume shows DVD-by-DVD. If you become interested in the show after today’s post, find an abridged version, if possible. It’s a 50 episode sink. I’ll leave the ball in your court so you can call the shot.

Meet Cho Gonou

Cho Gonou was born an orphan and raised by nuns. Classic. Cho was a quiet and secluded boy and you best believe he was not a religious boy despite his environment. As he grew up, he got out of the church and became a school teacher in a quaint village. It was here he meets and falls head-over-heels for Kanan. I found out recently that Kanan is Cho’s sister in the manga. In the anime, not the same. For the sake of argument and to not promote incest on the blog; they’re not related in the anime. Phew! Either way, fall in love, marriage, the works.

One fateful day, Cho comes home from a grocery run to find Kanan missing with clear signs of kidnapping. Turns out she was just what the local demon lord needed. Distraught that the love of his life has been kidnapped, the utterly pacifistic Cho goes to return his beloved from the demon lord. Cho meets little opposition and manages to find Kanan locked up. Unfortunately, the demon lord has managed to place his seed in Kanan and she wants nothing to do with it. Cho watches helplessly as the woman he loves more than life itself take her own life to stop her own grizzly fate. Cue the revenge music because Cho is not even close to being done.

Cho decided to mercilessly slaughter scores of demon underlings to avenge his lost love. Systematically working his way to the big bad, Cho destroys hordes of demons. So much so that he literally begins to lose his own humanity to vengence. Finally, he confronts the demon lord and destroys him with ease. It’s this final trigger that causes Cho Gonou to himself become a demon. The very thing he opposing. Unable to control himself any longer, Cho decides to find a way to subdue his unholy nature.

Cho lays low for as long as he can until the past catches up with him within days. The demon lord’s brother, brother demon, comes looking for for Cho to whoop his ass. Cho recklessly leaves his shelter to confront this brother demon but without the same anger he had before. Everything he knew and loved was gone. Why should he care anymore. He even attempts to rip out his left eye to appease brother demon for killing the demon lord. This isn’t enough. Cho decides that he doesn’t care anymore. He just wants his suffering to end. Long story short: Cho Gonou dies. Figuratively, of course. A monk named Genjo Sanzo arrives to quickly dispatch brother demon while arresting Cho Gonou for mass murder.

It’s after his arrest that Cho realizes the error of his ways and is given a second chance. This is when Cho Gonou becomes Cho Hakkai and begins traveling with the monk as an ally and friend. Cho becomes an enlightened individual hellbent on redemption for his past attrocities while being able to honor the memory of his Kanan. You seriously don’t learn this until a quarter into the show’s runtime. You’d never expect the cheerful and optimistic Cho Hakkai to have had such a difficult past. I can relate to that.

How does Cho Hakkai fit the billet?

High Intelligence – Cho is incredibly smart and ultimately becomes the voice of reason for the main cast. Typical of Byronic characters, a well-read character is a defining trait. Cho grew up in a house of God but he was never a believer. He prefers to see the world for the sum of its parts while seeking meaning elsewhere.

Self-Destructive – Cho could care less about his well being, especially after Kanan’s death. He tried to rip his eye out, permanently ruining the vision in his right eye to make amends. He even offers his own life when the eye wasn’t enough. Cho Hakkai is a little more aware but his life can be extinguished if it was for the greater good. Magnanimous!

Mysterious – Byronic characters have an air of mystery about them. Who are they? Why are they? Cho Hakkai throughout the show is constantly full of surprises and chooses to never reveal the cards in his proverbial hands. It’s just easier to keep things under wraps until the time comes to reveal said detail. Until then, Cho continues to surprise no matter what he does.

Dark Attributes – Despite his reformed personality, Cho Hakkai will always be a demon kept in check with magical limiting devices because of the choice he made in the past. Byronic characters are haunted by past mistakes that follow them everywhere. You would never know such pain behind his kind facade of a smile but he hides it well. He only wanted to protect his beloved and I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same for my wife.

A Second Chance to Live

Despite all of this, Cho Hakkai lives with love, companionship, and purpose despite his dark past. That’s incredibly inspiring to me. Still, the haunting feelings that creep up on him from time to time. His mind wanders back to that martyrdom that set him back in the first place. It’s only through the love and support of his friends that he is able to move forward and be the best, nuturing teammate that he can be.

One of my favorite moments in the show is when Cho is observing his “life line” on his palm. It’s short. Concerningly short. He thinks he should have died. He feels liks his hand is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is until his rambunctious buddy, Son Goku, takes a Sharpie to his life line and makes it longer for him. This gesture is just too pure for words. Ultimately, it’s not about what we’ve done in the past. It’s what we do with the time we have now. A palm reading isn’t going to determine your fate. Only you can. With some supportive friends, you may just be able to keep going onward. At least that’s what I got out of it.

That’s all I have for you today. How was THAT? I hope you learned something today if not take away something possitive from this post. It’s currently 2AM and I am needed at 6AM but I had a writing itch to scatch. Lord, have mercy! Thank you, sincerely, for reading. Let’s do it again real soon. Aloha!

3 thoughts on “Spotting Byronic Heroes: Cho Hakkai

  1. Captain this was by far my favourite post by you so far. This was incredibly interesting piece. The way you explained Byronic characters was brilliant because I’d never heard of those terms before. Moreover you have sold the series Saiyuki to me on a platter. Very keen to give this series a go now, what was projected to me fro your writing just made me feel sad for this cho character. It was like dam in my face. Fantastic post 👏☺️

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you. Thank you. I’m filled with gratitude and the feedback is super helpful. I want to work on posts similar to this and the encouragment makes me want to reserch immediately. If you do end up checking out the series, let me know your thoughts. Also, enjoy the all the hotties in that show. Especially Homura 😍

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard the term Byronic Hero and it’s been explained in a quick manner before, but this is the best explanation I’ve seen. Thank you for the lesson.
    And I don’t know about that STEM degree thing. Maybe when I was in school, but that degree hasn’t done much for me yet. Still working on that.

    Liked by 2 people

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